My name is Christian Soto, I'm a commercial pilot flying the Embraer E190 for Aeromexico Connect. I flew several types of aircraft like the Piper 34, 32, Cessna Caravan, Cheyenne III, King Air 90, Embraer 145 and more, but I can say that one of my favorites was the famous King Air 200 GT, the King of the Kings...
I flew for the first time When I was 10 years old. My first aircraft was the Piper Cherokee and I made my first landing at Addison Texas, what a great experience. At that time I decided to become a pilot.I am a huge fan of Microsoft Flight Simulator, I spent hours and hours every night flying all kind of aircraft. At some point I realized that it was time to me to build something big in order to prepare myself for jobs interviews in the future, so then I started to build this cockpit in my living room, I can say my wife wasn't very happy but I still did it =/.I started looking some ideas on the web about how to build a cheap interface because it will be the brain of the flight simulator software. So then after a few days of search I found some guy talking about the keyboard card interface to make it happen. That was it! It was the cheapest way to make it, only a keyboard, but this person didn't specify well all the process. (I studied for a few years aircraft avionics and electronics so the idea was very simple and easy to do it). That's why I made this blog for people who may be a little bit confusing.Please take a look to the entire blog and if there are any questions please feel free to contact me. Also if you liked and you feel it was useful to you please share and subscribe to my Google + and my YouTube channel. You can see the link here. Thank you very much for you interesting and enjoy this reading, cheers!
Well lets start;
Our first step will be to create the hardware, this means all the frame and structure, the most important thing here. The structure will support the screen(s), panels, flight controls, etc. We have to start thinking of what kind of cockpit do we want, a big one or small one, in my case I took the half of my living room.
I recommend to take a notebook and start planning all the process.
In our design we must draw wherever each hardware will take place like your screen(s), yoke, power console and the rudder pedals. We can also define for example, where your engine panel will be placed, etc.
The cockpit must be divided in different panels in order to be more organize and build one by one without doing a mess.
For our cockpit we need to choose what kind of aircraft we use to fly. Like this it will be easier to know what kind of systems will be required and in which place. For example in my case I choose the King Air 350, so we know that the engine panel are in the left side on the captain side on the lower area. This is very common in almost every Beechcraft aircraft's that is very different if we compare with Piper aircraft's that have the engine panel at the upper area. But we can make a combination of them, In my case I also located some bottoms and switches in my upper panel to simulate other aircraft systems different than Beechcraft aircraft's and their function are easy to change using the flight simulator key board assignments.
When we have finished we must draw again our structure but divided by panels. This panels will be for example the engines systems, the auto-pilot, light switches, nav-com radios, other flight sim functions like pause, exit, review, etc...
Sorry about this picture but I'm not very good at drawing! Whatever this image shows a quick view of the location of some switches in each panel.
Once we have all our idea, we need to start building it! First we need sheets of wood that we can buy easily, of course if you have mare cash you can buy something better.
Once you have your materials at home we can measure them. Take one sheet of wood and draw one of your panel on it, like your engine control panel for example. (Off course you will draw it with your chosen size). Do this with every panel of your design.
The wood is perfect for carrying each electric component and it will help us for our support. We can make all the structure with wood it doesn't matter, if it support your structure its ok. In my case I used my old weight bench to carry the components. I mounted all panels on it.
After your panels are draw on the wood sheets, we need to cut them in order to get each panel by separately. The panels need to be screwed together.
Once the structure is finished we need to add some other part to mount thr essential parts, the yoke, power console, rudder pedals and screen(s). We must be sure to locate this parts in a place that you are comfortable for flying, specially your yoke. Remember you are going to spend many hours flying in your simulator.
For mounting the hardware we can use pieces of wood for making little structures for each of them. Be sure to mount them firmly to the whole structure. Once your hardware is located into your structure, now we can start to make it work!
Here we will need first a good place to set our CPU PC in order to let a good distance between the system connections and the cockpit.
For the connections I recommend you to buy a carpet protector in PVC, this ones you can buy them at any office supply store. This ones are very easy to manage, specially to cut them and thrill them. Once at home, we are going to make panels in the same size of the wood sheets panels. We need to do this for making space between the wood and the PVC to hide behind all the cables.
After you have cut each panel you need to take a marker and draw on the PVC every switch and bottom that they will take place like we thought before. You can see an example in one of my videos here: http://www.youtube.com/user/gallitosoto2?feature=mhee#p/u/69/iQYtBbGualo
Ours must be cut and they must fit in the same way to your structure. Locate your panels in your structure to be sure of this. For making space between them, use some screws like this ones:
Once we are sure that the panels fit to the structure lest start making the connections.
For some of you this can be a little bit confusing but the thing in electronic connections is to connect one by one and verify each by each and marking them. You need to be sure each one you are connecting works, for example each connection needs to perform a keyboard letter, you can verify this step one bye one with note pad, (see below). After doing like 70 switches connections you will have cables all over your place. Imagine you need like 2 1/2 meters for each connection, so you must be organize!
Ok, so now it comes the magic of this cockpit flight simulator. Like I said before, it is very cheap than it appears because this cockpit does not required any software and special hardware to make it work, we need only a key board! And how? because we know that each flight simulator software has the option to perform any duty from your key board, like if wee want to open the aircraft main door to open we need to write in = Shift + E and the door will open. We can do the same for our engines so you can start to make the commands like: ignition engine 1 = Q and ignition engine 2 = W, etc...
Once this is understand we need now to take our keyboard or buy another one and take a look on it. Start to open it very gently in order to remove the first FRONT FACE with all the the letters. We are going to see something like this:
In the key board we will see the keyboard card normally located on the right side and three transparent sheets one over the other. We can notice that the sheets have circuits, these belongs to each keyboard letter and each letter is connected to one slot to the keyboard card. Take a look and see that only the first and the third sheet are connected to the card and the second sheet only separates them one from each other. This is because without this sheet the circuits will interfered and the keyboard will not function. (Keyboard cards may differ but the logic its the same, I recomend you the DELL keybords).
The keyboard card is separated by two slots, in some keyboards there is the short slot and the long slot but in almost they are identical. In order to don't start to be confused let say that there are two slots name RED and the other YELLOW.
In the picture above I made an example for creating the letter Q and the letter W, I hope you understand this for now that (RED 1 + YELLOW 1 = Q) and (RED 1 + YELLOW 2 = W).
With your keyboard like it appears in the image above.
Ok, so now we need to take a multimeter to know every keyboard letter that correspond to each slot. (This step may be the most difficult part but you can do it. You can find a multimeter at an electronic shop. You can ask for help about using thisone). Doing this will help us to define which commands are we going to use in our flight simulator.
Start to find the key board letters by placing your multimeter in the keyboard number 1 and then find to wich red slot correspond. W will notice this when you are going to see a change in AMPS on the multimeter. For example, (number 1 correspond to red slot number 6) and will belong to sheet 1 or 3 in the keyboard.. Take note of this in your note book. Then do the same thing with the other sheet and find wich yellow slot correspond the number 1, for example, (number 1 correspond to yellow slot number 11).
In your note book will apear for our number 1: (1 = red6 + yellow11)
Having the first one, we must do the same process but with every letter, at least the number of commands we are going to use for your flight simulator. In my case I use over 75 commands.
So lets write it all, (Remeber that not all the keyboards have the same commands).
D_RED9 YELLOW 13
L _RED9 YELLOW8
M _RED11 YELLOW10
N_RED12 YELLOW 10.....
SPACE _RED12 YELLOW12
; _RED11 YELLOW9
. _RED11 YELLOW8
= _RED12 YELLOW7
º _RED1 YELLOW4....
2 _RED9 RED4
3 _RED9 RED7
4 _RED4 YELLOW3....
(In some cases a key may be connect to a same slot like the number 2).
I think for now we have finished the hardest process of our flight simulator interface!
For our last step in this chapter we need now how to define which kind of commands we would like to use for our cockpit, like we said before, we want the ignition for the engine number 1 to be the letter Q. This is easy because we know know now which systems we are going to use by the design we made before. Again this ones we should write it down. In my simulator I used this ones,
IDENT NAV 1
IDENT NAV 2
And other more. The thing here is to make easy and avoid the use of the mouse to make any task in our flight simulator. I hope every thing until here is understood. Lets move to the next phase...
Our structure is ready and we have understood the interface, its time to start setting-up everything together.
First remove our keyboard card and disconnect or desold the slots BUT KEEP WELL the USB connection, be gentle with that. After we remove the keyboard card locate this one in a piece of PVC, in my case I used a lid of a topper ware, that was perfect. Then secure it by screws.
Once this is ready, we have to buy like 100 meters of stereo cables, this ones we can find them very cheap in a car or electronic shop. Then with this cables take like 25 pieces of 15 centimeters. Then we must weld this ones very careful to each pin of each slot. NOTE: (!!!If one cable is bad welded or it touch another one it wont work!!!).
In my case I weld each cable and then I connected them to a series of slots dived by the slot red and the slot yellow. Doing this will help us to have our key board card stable and the cables weld to the pins are not going to move.
After that, take another 25 pieces of cable but now of approximately 30 centimeters each one and connect them from the series of connectors. Like this we have now our pins of our slots red and yellow available very easy to crate whichever command we want. We can take then bigger connectors for making each bottom interface:
Excellent! After the big connectors have been placed, we should have theoretically this image in our interface:
So next go to a electronic shop and buy one switch for each command, In my case I bought like 75 switches. I recommend you to buy some extra more because in some cases they doesn't work properly. This switches must be the kind (open-close), it means that when you push the bottom it will close momentarily send the signal and simulate a keyboard letter. The bottoms may cost like .25 to .75 USD but it may depend on quality.
Ok, now we are going to do our first experiment and let see if we have made it...
For example, lets try number 4 and we want to make this command the Auto-Pilot disconnection system.
We wrote before in our notebook that number 4 has the combination: (RED4 + YELLOW3).
Take some cable and weld into our bottom. After that we can now connect our switches to the big connectors of our interface, plug the keyboard card with the USB cable to your PC, open the note path and click on the bottom, IF IT WRITE 4 you have achieve everything! This will be like this:
After we have placed our keyboard card, we can start know connecting everything together.
To simplify the process of our connections we can make some shortcuts between each switch. For this we have to connect our first switch in order to have our first two cables crossing the structure. My tip for you is to start connecting the switches from the farthest to the closest.
For this next picture we use for example the letter (A) by the combination: A = (YELLOW3 + RED1). So now to save us some space and cables we take the closest combination that contains the YELLOW3 or RED1. For letter B we can say that it uses the combination (YELLOW1 + RED1). This two letters are closest together so we use only a short piece of cable for RED1 in the letter B.
Let see what we are talking about:
After this step you can now start making each connection with this process, but remember to do this one by one.
If you are thinking to make a huge cockpit with a lot of cables, I advice you to mark each cable as close as possible with their corresponding color and number.
Marking the cables will make your maintenance easier to do later in the future because some maintenance will be required some day. May be your pet will jump and destroy some cables or your kids destroy everything or maybe dust... It will very easy to you to reconnect the broken conections if they are marked. Remember that this interface should fail some times and you need to know in witch place it is going bad.
When everything is finished, lets go to the flight simulator options to set each command.
Remember, my cockpit it is not the best cockpit ever but It helped me a lot with my flights and I still enjoying flying with it.
I hope you are going to do a better one...
I leave you some pictures here, enjoy!
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